Named for its turtle-like shape, Turtle Mound is the highest shell midden in North America. It was constructed by Native Americans between 800-1400 AD. Composed primarily of oyster shell (over 35,000 cubic yards of it!), Turtle Mound originally stood as much as 75 feet in height. Erosion in the past centuries has transformed the mound into the shape of a “turtle;” it is today more than 600 feet long and stands about 50 feet tall. The Timucuan speakers who constructed this mound are known archaeologically as the St. Johns Culture, named for the St. Johns River. Although these people were farmers, they also relied heavily on fish and shellfish and it was with certainty the latter resources which drew settlers to the vicinity of Turtle Mound. Visible for miles offshore, Turtle Mound was recorded as a navigational landmark beginning in the early Spanish Period. Spanish explorer Alvaro Mexia called this site “Surruque” after his visit in 1605, when he noted the local Indians launching canoes at the base of the mound.
Did You Know...
- The mound is located in Canaveral National Seashore, and it is one of the largest shell middens on the Florida coast.
- A National Park Service boardwalk takes visitors to the top of the mound, with interpretive signs along the way explaining the site’s history.
- From the peak, visitors can see the great estuaries used by native people during the St. Johns Period.